City of Kirkland, healthcare provider team up to curb costs

The city of Kirkland and a Seattle-based health care provider have signed an agreement intended to provide health care for city employees and ultimately reduce health care costs.

The city of Kirkland and a Seattle-based health care provider have signed an agreement intended to provide health care for city employees and ultimately reduce health care costs.

As part of the agreement, Vera Whole Health is creating a new worksite clinic near Totem Lake and next to EvergreenHealth, which will be available for the approximately 500 city employees and their families. It is expected to open in the spring.

As part of the plan, the city will pay a monthly fee, while city employees receive unlimited access to primary care, acute care and health coaching at the clinic. Vera Whole Health medical team will include physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and health coaches.

The plan is an addition and doesn’t replace their current health plan.

Although Vera’s care clinic will be designed just for city employees and their families at first, City Manager Kurt Triplett said eventually others will be able to use their services as well under their own plans.

“One of the reasons we partnered with Vera is they build reciprocity into their clinics, and their goal is to have a network of clinics where different groups can use different clinics,” he said. “So there will be capacity for people outside of the city.”

Ryan Schmid, president and CEO of Vera Whole Health, said that this model of providing healthcare is a practical solution for reducing unnecessary health costs.

“They really have designed a plan that is very forward thinking that we think will generate great results for them,” he said. “It’s a consumer-driven health care plan.”

Schmid said that while healthcare system is more reactive, care clinics are intended to take preventive measures to curb potential costs.

“Most of us use our health benefits just when something is wrong,” he said. “Our system is really more of a sick system than it is a healthcare system. They’ve (Kirkland) designed their benefit plan to pay for health and wellness and obviously making all the traditional output patient inpatient, so o folks can come to Vera, get engaged in their health with hour long appointments, unlimited health coaching, following their acute needs as well.”

Schmid added that their model helps people maintain their health and discover problems when they are minor, which can be easier to treat.

“The biggest reason they save money is a dramatic reduction in unnecessary care or inappropriate care. It stems from fragmentation. You’ll often times see conditions that are very manageable.”

The main reason for the reduction in costs, Schmid said, is unnecessary care due to untreated conditions.

“You’ll often times see conditions that are very manageable,” he said. “That person seeing their primary care provider three or four times a year can avoid inpatient days. That’s where you also have the coaching that goes on. Having a coach to then help people implement the care plan they set with their provider really drives up results.”

Their system, Schmid said, creates accountability for what is done with the money spent.

“I think that purchasers that are wise are considering healthcare like they would anything else. What am I paying for? What am I going to get? How much will it cost? What if it breaks? What’s the warranty? They’re recognizing they have considerable more control than they previously thought they did. Vera sits right into the heart of that, because we can contract directly with the employer who is paying for that.”

While Kirkland is not the first city to sign on for a care clinic, Triplett said their urban environment contrasts with most cities that do, which are typically found in rural areas.

“What makes Kirkland unique is that most areas that have adopted clinics are somewhat isolated,” he said. “There just isn’t a plethora of medical options. Establishing the clinic is a way of providing service. We’re establishing a clinic in the middle of the Greater Seattle Region, which has some of the best healthcare in the world.”

As healthcare costs continue to increase, Triplett said care clinics will become popular with cities looking to fix their costs. As far as how much it would save the city, and taxpayers, Triplett said they don’t have an exact figure, but their expectation is that it will cut healthcare cost increases down to three percent a year, whereas right now he said it is around seven to 10 percent.

“If we were going at three (percent) we’d be ecstatic,” he said.

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